NFL WEEK 2: After a typically weird Week 1, it’s only natural to want to drastically alter some of our opinions and projections. Take Pittsburgh, for instance: yes, some big names departed in the offseason, but the Steelers were still expected to be playoff contenders at the very least. After a 33-3 humbling at the hands of New England, however, we’re left wondering whether this might be what the end looks like for Big Ben. And then there’s Pittsburgh’s longtime rival and frequent punching bag, the Cleveland Browns. This was supposed to be the year that the Browns had some juice, possibly enough juice to turn around the franchise and begin a new tradition, a winning tradition. But, alas, it was “same old Browns” in a 43-13 loss to a Tennessee team that was projected to be pretty average.
And then there are the pleasant surprises: the Titans, Bills, and Raiders all pulled off minor upsets, and even Cincinnati looked much better than expected in a 1-point road loss to Seattle. Lamar Jackson silenced those critical of his passing ability, Kellen Moore injected some unexpected excitement into the Dallas offense, Austin Ekeler looked like a serious threat to “Wally Pipp” Melvin Gordon, and DeSean Jackson turned back the clock in Philly.
Of course, overreaction is generally the name of the game after the opening week, and we want to avoid that wherever possible, obviously. With star players increasingly getting little to no action in the preseason, there’s bound to be some sloppiness and uneven play early in the season, so don’t let “recency bias” (a term I’ve always found a bit silly, if only because of its ubiquity and obvious usefulness) weigh you down too much when studying this week’s slate. Don’t be the “Roethlisberger is washed” guy, in other words.
And before we get to the picks, it would be remiss of me not to mention that BETDAQ is offering 0% commission on all NFL bets in September and October. Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
Let’s get to it. Here’s what I’m thinking for Week 2:
Buffalo Bills @ New York Giants (Buf -2, 44.5)
Recommendation: Buffalo -2 at 1.95
The Bills played a dismal half of football against the Jets last week, turning the ball over 4 times and eventually falling behind 16-o in the 3rd quarter before the offense got rolling. But once quarterback Josh Allen settled down a bit, he did some nice things with both his legs and his arm, and new arrivals like John Brown and Devin Singletary gave the Buffalo offense an element of explosiveness that it’s been missing for some time. Allen’s game-winning 38-yard touchdown pass to Brown may end up sparking something nice for the Bills, who have a very manageable schedule over the next month.
“Manageable” starts with the Giants this week, a team that was thoroughly outclassed in a Week 1 loss to Dallas. They were particularly bad in the secondary, surrendering 405 yards and 4 TDs through the air, so Allen should find more room to operate than he could against the stingy Jets D. And speaking of stingy, the Buffalo defense has a chance to be one of the NFL’s best this season. Sean McDermott has his system fully entrenched now, and they absolutely shut down the Jets last week, limiting them to 223 total yards and harassing Sam Darnold all game long. While the Giants have one of the league’s best young backs in Saquon Barkley, the leader of the offense, Eli Manning, is in the twilight of his career and is frequently a hindrance to winning at this stage. He’ll have his hands full, and then some, against this Bills defense. Look for Buffalo to get the job done here.
Arizona Cardinals @ Baltimore Ravens (Bal -12.5, 46)
Recommendation: Baltimore -12.5 at 2.0
First, a confession: yes, I bet against the Cardinals last week and was bitterly disappointed when they erased a 24-6 4th quarter deficit to salvage a 27-27 tie, thus turning my DET -2 ticket into a loser. But this isn’t a “tilt” play (at least that’s what I keep telling myself..), it’s more like a conscious rejection of the “4th quarter Cardinals” as the team’s actual identity. Yes, the offense showed some life and Kyler Murray made some nice throws to lead the comeback, but the collapse of the Detroit defense and the “turtling” of the Detroit offense were major factors as well, and I don’t think Baltimore is going to be quite as accommodating this week.
But what this is really about is the Arizona team that I watched for 3+ quarters. Unless you were also watching the game, you probably have no conception of just how bad the offense looked. Extreme impotence, is how I would describe it. And the defense wasn’t much better, as Matt Stafford consistently had receivers running wide open through a Cardinals secondary that is without top corners Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford. The Ravens, of course, are coming off a 59-10 stomping of Miami, a game in which QB Lamar Jackson silenced his doubters by throwing for 324 yards and 5 TDs on only 20 attempts. The Dolphins may be the worst team in the league, but I’m not yet convinced that the Cardinals are far behind, and they’ll be stepping into the lions den here– Baltimore’s home opener at M&T Bank Stadium, where rookie QBs are 2-15 all-time. This one will not be close.
Chicago Bears @ Denver Broncos (Chi -2.5, 39.5)
Recommendation: Denver +2.5 at 2.0
The Bears laid an egg in their Week 1 loss to Green Bay, producing only 3 points in a frightfully ugly performance. All eyes are now on QB Mitch Trubisky, who was famously drafted ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson but now looks like the clear weak link on a team that was projected to be a legitimate contender in the NFC. I mean… it’s possible that Green Bay’s defense is simply that good, despite being a middling unit last year, but the more likely explanation for Trubisky’s struggles is, well… Trubisky himself. Let’s face it, it’s not like he set the world on fire last season, and the rumblings you’ve heard out of Chicago this week about a “crisis of confidence” make you wonder whether Bears coaches have reached the obvious conclusion: this guy simply isn’t very good.
Things won’t get any easier for him this week as he goes on the road to face a Broncos defense that is equipped with elite pass-rushing talent and is designed by Vic Fangio, the ex-Bears defensive coordinator who surely knows Trubisky and the Chicago offense inside and out. Now, the Denver offense will have problems of its own against the stellar Chicago defense, and Under 39.5 might be a sensible play here. But the combination of great defense and bad offense often produces turnovers and defensive TDs, two things that can kill an under bet, so I’ve come around to DEN +2.5 as the better play. The venue is a major factor here, too– I know downplaying home field advantage is fashionable among the self-appointed smart set these days, but facts are facts, and Denver has won 13 straight September home games despite having a below-average team since Peyton Manning retired. This is a tough spot for Trubisky & Co.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons (Phi -2, 52.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta +2 at 1.94
The Eagles have been a popular public play this week, and it’s easy to understand why: many had them pegged as the clear favorites in the NFC East heading into the season, and after a slow start against Washington last week the offense came roaring to life, with Carson Wentz throwing for 313 yards in a 32-27 victory. The Falcons, meanwhile, were thoroughly dismantled by a good Minnesota team, dropping head coach Dan Quinn’s record to 7-11 in his last 18 games and intensifying calls for his job in certain corners. After all, Quinn is supposed to be a defensive mastermind, and the Falcons D was tissue-soft in Week 1, surrendering 172 rushing yards and forcing only two incompletions from Vikings QB Kirk Cousins.
But here’s where the part about “not overreacting to Week 1” comes in: the Falcons should actually be pretty good in the secondary this season, and Cousins totaled just 97 passing yards last week (though I’m aware that game flow played a significant role). Philadelphia has a pass-first offense, and I’m not quite as convinced as everyone else that the Eagles are just going to go up and down the field in this one. Plus, there’s one critical weakness of this Philadelphia team that everyone seems to be overlooking: they have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, a group that ranked 30th in the league in pass yards allowed in 2018 and was torched to the tune of 380 yards and 3 TDs last week by Redskins QB Case Keenum, a journeyman working with a below-average receiving corps. This week, the Eagles will have a much different sort of problem on their hands: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the elite Atlanta passing attack. This is a golden opportunity for the Falcons to rid themselves of the memory of last week– home opener in the prime-time slot (this is the late game on Sunday), against a highly-regarded opponent that just happens to struggle with the thing that Atlanta does best. Gimme the home team here.